Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Snapshot—Musical and Visual—of the South Side in the 70s

Posted By on 10.29.09 at 06:25 PM

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Chicago’s invaluable Numero Group label has always complemented its superb collections with beautiful packaging—thorough, fascinating liner notes, rare archival photographs, lovely slipcases. In fact, over the imprint’s history it seems as though the physical presentation of each release has become more important and more elaborate, which makes sense considering how easy it is for most folks to simply illegally download something for free. For the label’s next knockout release, Light: On the Southside, the music is actually a complement to the art: a stunning 12-by-12, 132-page hardbound book featuring gorgeous black-and-white photographs shot by Michael L. Abramson at a handful of south-side blues clubs and lounges between 1975 and 1977.

Instead of focusing on performers, Abramson turned his camera on the patrons, painting a vivid portrait of a dynamic community releasing everyday tensions through booze, cigarettes, and music. The title of the collection refers both to the image of Abramson, a skinny white guy haunting clubs like Pepper’s Hideout, the High Chaparral, and Perv’s Lounge, and the blinding flash of his strobe. This is a world that hasn’t really been recorded in Chicago history books.

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The lavishly printed book comes in a thick cardboard case, which also makes space for a double LP set in its own gatefold sleeve festooned with additional Abramson photos. The vinyl-only set collects 18 jams, designed to replicate the range of selections that might've been on a jukebox in one of these bars at the time—a representation of the blues sound away from the north side clubs (which catered to white crowds, a sound at the crossroads between old blues tropes and forms with inescapable funk grooves and deep soul grit. This is stuff that was generally well outside the reach of labels like Chess or Delmark—most of it was released by tiny independents that rarely lasted for more than a few records. Some of the artists are familiar—Little Mack Simmons, Bobby Rush, Artie “Blues Boy” White, and Detroit Jr. among them—but nearly all the rest were new to me. The LPs come with superb liner notes, as usual.

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At 2 PM on Sunday, November 1, the Chicago Cultural Center
hosts an event in G.A.R. Rotunda to celebrate the release of the book. Tribune writer Rick Kogan, who wrote the profile of Abramson in May 2008 for the Sunday Tribune Magazine that led to the book project, will host a discussion with the photographer. Following the talk books will be for sale, there will be signing, and, I kid you not, Intelligentsia Coffee will serve its “24-Carat Blend,” whose name refers to a recent release on the label. The Numero Group staff will also spin old-school south-side soul and blues. The event is free.


Photos: Michael L. Abramson

Today’s playlist:

Milton Nascimento & Belmondo, Milton Nascimento & Belmondo (Biscoito Fino)
Buffalo Collision, Duck (Screwgun)
Search, Today Is Tomorrow (Search Productions)
Bob Dylan, Together Through Life (Columbia)
Steve Kuhn Trio With Joe Lovano, Mostly Coltrane (ECM)

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